Overnight Defense: Afghanistan tops foreign policy issues at Dem debate | Erdogan says he'll discuss missile sale with Trump | US again challenges Beijing's claim to South China Sea

Overnight Defense: Afghanistan tops foreign policy issues at Dem debate | Erdogan says he'll discuss missile sale with Trump | US again challenges Beijing's claim to South China Sea
© Kevin Dietsch/UPI Photo

Happy Friday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

THE TOPLINE: Last night marked the third round of the Democratic presidential debates, with foreign policy and defense occupying a relatively short portion of the three-hour-long event though coming up sooner than in previous debates.

Of the time dedicated to national security, Afghanistan was a major topic. Here’s some of the highlights:

Warren, Buttigieg promise withdrawal even without deal: Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest Pelosi wants to change law to allow a sitting president to be indicted MORE (D-Mass.) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul Buttigieg2020 Democrats defend climate priorities in MSNBC forum MSNBC Climate Change Forum draws 1.3M viewers in 8 pm timeslot Iowa Steak Fry to draw record crowds for Democrats MORE (D) went further than their previous pledges on Afghanistan by saying they would swiftly withdraw U.S. troops even without a peace deal with the Taliban.

The Democratic presidential candidates also said they would bring troops home quickly even if military leaders advised otherwise.

“We have got to put an end to endless war. And the way we do it is see to it that that country will never again be used for an attack against our homeland and that does not require an open-ended requirement of ground troops,” Buttigieg said.

Buttigieg, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, noted that Americans born after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks “could be 18 years old, old enough to serve, and have not been alive on 9/11.”

Warren, meanwhile, replied “yes” when asked if she would keep her promise to bring the troops home immediately, even if there were no deal with the Taliban.

“Yes, and I’ll tell you why. What we’re doing right now in Afghanistan is not helping the safety and security of the United States, it is not helping the safety and security of the world, it is not helping the safety and security of Afghanistan,” she said. “We need to bring our troops home.”

Biden floats Pakistan base: Former Vice President Biden argued that Afghanistan “cannot be put together.”

He also argued the United States could base troops in Pakistan to ensure Afghanistan is not used for terrorist attacks against the United States.

"We can prevent the United States from being the victim of terror coming out of Afghanistan by providing for bases — insist the Pakistanis provide bases for us to airlift from and to move against what we know,” he said.

Yang cites pledge to end wars: Asked about his qualifications be commander-in-chief compared to the lawmakers and other former elected officials on stage, businessman Andrew YangAndrew Yang2020 Democrats defend climate priorities in MSNBC forum Yang: 'Cancel culture' has become source of 'fear' for Americans Hundreds of thousands turn out in New York, other major cities for climate marches MORE cited the fact that he signed a pledge to end “forever wars.”

“I've signed a pledge to end the forever wars,” he said. “We've been in a state of continuous armed conflict for 18 years, which is not what the American people want. We have to start owning what we can and can't do. We're not very good at rebuilding countries.”

Buttigieg swipes at Trump: Buttigieg on Thursday also took a swipe at Trump over recent reports that a U.S. Air Force crew stayed at one of the president’s hotels in Scotland during a layover.

“We ... have a president right now who seems to treat troops as props, or worse, tools for his own enrichment,” Buttigieg said.

 

ERDOGAN PREVIEWS TALK WITH TRUMP AT UN: President TrumpDonald John TrumpJulián Castro: It's time for House Democrats to 'do something' about Trump Warren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest MORE and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will meet later this month to discuss a possible sale of U.S. Patriot missiles, the Turkish leader says.

Erdogan told Reuters in an interview published Friday that his close relationship with Trump could mend the tensions after the NATO ally in July accepted delivery of the Russian-made S-400 missile system.

Erdogan said that he had discussed a Patriot purchase in a phone call with Trump two weeks ago, and that the two would further discuss a deal when they meet at the United Nations General Assembly, which starts next week.

“I said no matter what package of ... S-400s we get, we can buy from you a certain amount of Patriots,” Erdogan told Reuters. “But I said we have to see conditions that at least match up to the S-400s.”

“He said: ‘Are you serious?’ I said: ‘Yes’,” Erdogan said.

Background: The State Department had hoped to sell the Raytheon-made Patriot missile defense system to Ankara in place of the S-400, but such a deal has since expired.

Turkish officials have said in the past that they’d be willing to buy Patriots over the S-400 if the United States offers a deal that includes the system’s sensitive missile technology. But Washington has not budged on such a request, causing Turkey to reject it.

The S-400 sale has since caused the Trump administration to terminate Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program. Turkey was one of nine partner countries involved in the program and was to eventually buy at least 100 of the advanced stealth aircraft.

 

NAVY CHALLENGES CHINA'S SOUTH CHINA SEA CLAIM: The U.S. Navy on Friday sailed a warship through disputed waters in the South China Sea, the latest move in an operation meant to challenge Chinese claims to the area.

The U.S. military sailed the guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer near the Paracel Islands, causing Beijing to accuse Washington of “navigational hegemony,” CNN reported.

Reuters was the first to report the maneuver, which “challenged the restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam, and also contested China's claim to straight baselines enclosing the Paracel Islands,” the Navy's 7th fleet spokesman Cmdr. Reann Mommsen said in a statement.

“China, Taiwan, and Vietnam each claim sovereignty over the Paracel Islands. All three claimants require either permission or advance notification before a foreign military vessel engages in 'innocent passage' through territorial seas,” Mommsen added. “The unilateral imposition of any authorization or notification requirement for innocent passage is not permitted by international law, so the United States challenged these requirements.”

China's response: The Chinese Defense Ministry released a statement that said the U.S. warship “trespassed into waters off China's Xisha Islands without permission of the Chinese government.”

Since 1996, China has claimed the Paracel Islands and surrounding waters.

“The US side has been practicing 'navigational hegemony' in the South China Sea for a long time. Such actions have seriously undermined China's sovereign interests, and proven the US side's complete lack of sincerity in maintaining global peace as well as regional security and stability,” according to Beijing’s statement.

 

NOREA KOREA CYBER SANCTIONS: The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions Friday against three North Korean cyber groups for targeting critical infrastructure.

OFAC identified the Lazarus Group and two of its subsidiaries, Bluenoroff and Andariel, as “agencies, instrumentalities, or controlled entities of the Government of North Korea,” noting that all three groups are controlled by RGB, North Korea’s main intelligence bureau.

“Treasury is taking action against North Korean hacking groups that have been perpetrating cyber attacks to support illicit weapon and missile programs,” Sigal Mandelker, the Treasury under secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said in a statement. “We will continue to enforce existing U.S. and UN sanctions against North Korea and work with the international community to improve cybersecurity of financial networks.”

Background: According to OFAC, the Lazarus Group has been active in cyberattacks around the world since being created by the North Korean government in 2007. It was responsible for the cyberattack on Sony Pictures in 2014 stemming from the release of “The Interview,” a film that mocked the North Korean government.

The Lazarus Group was also involved in the WannaCry 2.0 ransomware virus in late 2017, which impacted at least 150 countries and encrypted or shut down about 300,000 computers.

This became one of the largest ransomware attacks in history after the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) was attacked, impacting about 8 percent of general medical practices in the U.K., and costing the NHS an estimated $112 million to recover.

Reaction: At least one member of Congress praised the sanctions. Rep. Jim LangevinJames (Jim) R. LangevinOvernight Defense: Afghanistan tops foreign policy issues at Dem debate | Erdogan says he'll discuss missile sale with Trump | US again challenges Beijing's claim to South China Sea Treasury sanctions three North Korean cyber groups for targeting critical infrastructure Lawmakers weigh responses to rash of ransomware attacks MORE (D-R.I.), the chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on intelligence and emerging threats and capabilities, said in a statement that he "congratulated" Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOvernight Defense: Trump hits Iranian central bank with sanctions | Trump meeting with Ukrainian leader at UN | Trump touts relationship with North Korea's Kim as 'best thing' for US Trump says he's sanctioning Iran's national bank Lawmakers run into major speed bumps on spending bills MORE for the decision to impose sanctions.

"Responsible nations do not engage in this kind of destabilizing behavior, and we must take action to hold irresponsible states accountable," Langevin said. "Malicious cyber actors around the world need to know that they cannot act with impunity and that the United States will use all instruments of national power to counter their activity."

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Paul calls into Wyoming TV station to talk Cheney feud

-- The Hill: Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyOvernight Defense: Trump says he has 'many options' on Iran | Hostage negotiator chosen for national security adviser | Senate Dems block funding bill | Documents show Pentagon spent at least 4K at Trump's Scotland resort Liz Cheney calls for 'proportional military response' against Iran Liz Cheney says world is more stable, 'safer' under Trump MORE and Rand Paul extend war of words

-- The Hill: Congress set to ignore Trump's wall request in stopgap measure

-- Reuters: U.S. won't send more troops to Syria for joint Turkish patrols

-- Wall Street Journal: Taliban urge U.S. to resume talks after Bolton’s departure

-- Associated Press: Taliban visits Moscow days after Trump says talks ‘dead’